K-12 Teaching and Learning From the UNC School of Education


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The Great Depression and World War II
Primary sources and readings explore the history of North Carolina and the United States during the Great Depression and World War II (1929–1945).
Page 8.2
North Carolina History: A Sampler
A sample of the more than 800 pages of our digital textbook for North Carolina history, including background readings, various kinds of primary sources, and multimedia. Also includes an overview of the textbook and how to use it.
Page 9.7

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  • 4-H and Home Demonstration Work during World War II: During the years of World War II, North Carolina women were led by Home Demonstration and extension agents in programs to increase food production and preservation. 4-H clubs also aided the war effort, primarily through the "Food for Victory" program and the "Feed a Fighter" campaign.
  • Feed a Fighter in Forty-Four: This pamphlet was sent by the North Carolina Agricultural Extension Service to 4-H members and other interested youth in the spring of 1944 as part of the ongoing "Feed a Fighter" campaign to mobilize youth to aid the war effort during World War II. Includes historical commentary.
  • Enlistment for Victory (1943): This "Enlistment for Victory" letter was given to boys and girls as part of the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service's "Mobilization for Victory" campaign during World War II. The first part introduces the program; the second is a list of projects that kids could take on. Includes historical commentary.

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black and white photo of 4-H boys and girls holding their posters

Members of a 4-H club show off their victory garden posters, 1943. 4-H members were asked not only to grow victory gardens but to convince their neighbors to grow them as well. Provided by the Green ‘N’ Growing Collection (The History of Home Demonstration and 4-H Youth Development in North Carolina), Special Collections, North Carolina State University Libraries. About the photograph

Colorful poster showing vegetables growing in the ground with legend Grow It Yourself: Plan a Farm Garden Now

The USDA had promoted “farm gardens” during the Depression. When the U.S. entered the war, the government pitched gardening to urbanites, as well. By Herbert Bayer, created for WPA War Services, 1941–1943. About the poster

During the war, canned goods were rationed, and labor shortages and gasoline rationing made it hard to harvest fruits and vegetables and get them to market. During the Depression, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and state agricultural extension agencies had promoted gardening and canning as a way for people out of work to feed themselves. Now, the government stepped up those efforts, asking citizens to grow “Victory Gardens.”

Extension agents developed programs to provide seed, fertilizer, and simple gardening tools for victory gardeners. Instructional booklets showed people how to grow and preserve their own food step by step. In 1942, the program’s first year, about 15 million families planted victory gardens — in backyards, in empty lots, and even on city rooftops. In 1943, 20 million victory gardens produced more than 40 percent of the fresh vegetables grown that year in the U.S. And to preserve the harvest, in 1943, Americans bought 315,000 pressure cookers for canning — up from only 66,000 the previous year.

Teaching Americans to garden

Plenty of Americans still lived on farms in 1942, or had grown up on farms. But residents of cities and suburbs wanted to do their part for victory, too — or at least have enough vegetables for their families. Government agencies and private companies quickly developed ways to teach all these first-time gardeners.

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This U.S. Department of Agriculture film was produced to show Americans what it took to grow a successful victory garden — and to convince them that it was worth the effort. About the video
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dos and don'ts of victory gardening

This book, designed to be sold where seeds and tools were sold, took a light approach to teaching first-time gardeners. ABC of Victory Gardens: Backyard Farming Made Easy for All (New York: D.H. Bedford, 1943), pp. 30–31. About the photograph

From Life magazine

Popular magazines ran articles about victory gardens and published instructions for first-time gardeners. By the end of the war, the victory garden was so much a part of popular culture that it even appeared in advertisements.

Gardens for U.S. at War: Six million amateurs work the soil” (March 30, 1942, pp. 81–84)
Introduces the idea of “victory gardens” and gives tips for first-time gardeners.
Victory gardens: They are springing up in strange nooks and crannies all over U.S.” (May 3, 1943, p. 29)
Article notes 18 million gardens planted in 1943 and includes photographs of some of the more surprising places converted to garden space.
[Sanka advertisement] (June 25, 1945, p. 40)
In this ad, a woman’s “wartime conscience” introduces her to decaffeinated coffee, suggesting that by cutting back on caffeine and getting more sleep, she could put more attention into her victory garden.